Programs that incorporate work-based learning (WBL) experiences in connection with school activities are proliferating, yet we know very little about their quality as learning experiences for young people or the costs associated with participating in them. This article examines two programs operating in the same school district, where students receive course credit for participating in WBL. One program provides unpaid internships each year of high school; the other provides paid work experience for one semester. We contrast the kinds of learning opportunities each offers to students, as measured by a student survey and a case study of program operations. We focus on two issues: the quality of students' work experiences in these programs and the relationship between program participation and school learning, including effects on school work and social experiences. We find that students perceive the quality of their work experiences to be very similar across the programs despite differences in the type of work involved and in several structural features of the programs. We find that both programs have weaknesses in establishing connections between school and work and that the number of hours students work negatively affects some aspects of school performance, such as having time to do homework and the desire to stay in school. Our findings raise questions about the value added of WBL, given costs associated with the program design and delivery and, in some cases, with participation.
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